May 2014

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First General Assembly Writes George Washington

witherspoonJ_03Back on May 21, we wrote about the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which met in Philadelphia in 1789.  It is interesting that part of their corporate decisions as a church was to send a letter on May 26, 1789 to President George Washington.  Its author of Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

After referring to President’s Washington military career and his unselfish surrender to the popular will of the people, it reads, “But we desire a presage even more flattering from the piety of your character. Public virtue is the most certain means of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue.  We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief magistrate a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the Christian religion; who has commenced his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, and, on the most public and solemn occasions, devoutly acknowledges the government of Divine providence.

WashingtonGeorgeIt goes on to say “the example of distinguished characters will ever possess a powerful and extensive influence on the public mind; and when we see in such a conspicuous station the amiable example of piety to God, of benevolence to men, and of a pure and virtuous patriotism, we naturally hope that it will diffuse its influence, and that, eventually, the most happy consequences will result from it.  To the force of imitation we will  endeavor to add the wholesome instructions of religion.  We shall consider ourselves as doing an acceptable service to God, in our profession, when we contribute to render men sober, honest, and industrious citizens and the obedient subjects of a lawful government.  In these pious labors we hope to imitate the most worthy of our brethren from other Christian denominations, and to be imitated by them; assured that if we can, by mutual and generous emulation, promote truth and virtue, we shall render a great and important service to the republic, shall receive encouragement from every wise and good citizen, and above all, meet the approbation of our Divine Master.

In conclusion, the Assembly said, “we pray Almighty God to have you always in His holy keeping. May He prolong your valuable life, an ornament and a blessing to your country, and at last bestow on you the glorious reward of a faithful servant.”

The teaching and ruling elders of this first general assembly saw in the first president of this country a Christian president. And so they wrote him on this day at the same time the first Federal Congress was meeting.

Also on this date:
26 May 1858 — The United Presbyterian Church of North America(UPCNA) was formed by union of the northern aspect of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church with the Associate Presbyterian Church. Their union was formalized in an assembly held in the Old City Hall in Pittsburgh, 26 May 1858. A century later, the denomination concluded its existence in 1958 when it merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to form the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on 28 May 1958.

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Remember to take Christ home with you.

Earlier this week, we looked briefly at the life of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Today, we present a closer look at his ministry, with the reading of one of his sermons, drawn from Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. (Banner of Truth Trust, 1973, pp. 454-456.)

SERMON XX.

“It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found Him whom my soul loveth; I held Him, and would not let Him go, until I had brought Him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceiveth me.”—Song of Solomon, iii. 4.

Have you found Him whom your soul loveth? Have you this day seen His beauty, heard His voice, believed the record concerning Him, sat under His shadow, found fellowship with Him? Then hold Him, and do not let Him go.

I. Motives.

(1) Because peace is to be found in Him.—Justified by faith, we have peace with God,—not peace with ourselves, not peace with the world, with sin, with Satan, but peace with God. True divine peace is to be found only in believing—only in keeping fast hold of Christ. If you let Him go, you let go your righteousness; for this is His name. You are then without righteousness, without a covering from the wrath of God, without a way to the Father. The law will again condemn you; God’s frown will again overshadow you; you will again have terrors of conscience. Hold Him then, and do not let Him go. Whatever you let go, let not Christ go; for He is our peace, not in knowledge, not in feeling, but trust in Him alone.

(2) Holiness flows from Him.—No true holiness in this world, but it springs from Him. A living Christ is the spring of holiness to all His members. As long as we hold Him, and do not let Him go, our holiness is secure. He is engaged to keep us from falling. He loves us too well to let us fall under the reigning power of sin. His word is engaged: “I will put My Spirit within you.” His honour would be tarnished if any that cleave to Him were suffered to live in sin. If you let Him go, you will fall into sin. You have no strength, no store of grace, no power to resist a thousand enemies, no promises. If Christ be for you, who can be against you? But if you let go His arms, where are you?

(3) Hope of glory is in Him.—We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. If you have found Jesus this day, you have found a way into glory. A few steps more, you can say, and I shall be for ever with the Lord. I shall be free from pain and sorrow, free from sin and weakness, free from enemies. As long as you hold Christ, you can see your way to the judgment-seat. “Thou wilt guide me with such joy, such transporting desires after the heavenly world! But let Christ go, and this will be gone. Let Christ go, and how can you die? The grave is covered with clouds of threatening. Let Him go, and how can you go to the judgment—where can you appear?

II. Means.

(1) Christ promises to keep you holding Him.—If you are really holding Christ this day, you are in a most blessed condition, for Christ engages to keep you cleaving to Him. “My soul followeth hard after Thee, and Thy right hand upholdeth me.” He that is the Creator of the world is the upholder of it, so He that new creates the soul keeps it in being. This is never to be forgotten. Not only does the Church lean on her beloved, but He puts His left hand under her head, and His right hand doth embrace her. “I taught Ephraim how to go, taking them by their arms.” It is good for a child to hold fast by its mother’s neck; but ah! that would be a feeble support, if the maternal arm did not enfold the child and clasp it to her bosom. Faith is good; but ah! it is nothing without the grace that gave it. “I will put my fear in your heart.”

(2) Faith in Christ.—The only way to hold fast is to believe more and more. Get a larger acquaintance with Christ,—with His person, work, and character. Every page of the gospel unfolds a new feature in His character,—every line of the epistles discloses new depths of His work. Get more faith, and you will get a firmer hold. A plant that has got a single root may be easily torn by the hand, or crushed by the foot of the wild beast, or blown down by the wind; but a plant that has a thousand roots struck down into the ground can stand. Faith is like the root. Many believe a little concerning Christ,—one fact. Every new truth concerning Jesus is a new root struck downwards. Believe more intensely. A root may be in a right direction, but not striking deep, it is easily torn up. Pray for deep-rooted faith. Pray to be stablished, strengthened, settled. Take a long intense look at Jesus,—often, often. If you wanted to know a man again, and he was going away, you would take an intense look at his face. Look then at Jesus—deeply, intensely—till every feature is graven on your heart. Thomas Scott overcame the fear of death by looking intensely at his dead child, who had died in the Lord.

(3) Prayer.—Jacob at Bethel. “Take hold of My strength.” (Isaiah 27:5). You must begin and pray after another fashion than you have done. Let it be real intercourse with God, like Hezekiah, Jacob, Moses, etc.

(4) By not offending Him.First, By sloth. When the soul turns sleepy or careless, Christ goes away. Nothing is more offensive to Christ than sloth. Love is an ever active thing, and when it is in the heart it will keep us waking. Many a night His love to us kept Him waking. Now, can you not watch with Him one hour? (Song. 5:2). Second, By idols. You cannot hold two objects. If you are holding Christ to-day, and lay hold of another object to-morrow, He cannot stay. He is a jealous God. You cannot keep worldly companions and Christ too. “A companion of fools shall be destroyed.” When the ark came into the house of Dagon, it made the idol fall flat. Third, By being unwilling to be sanctified. When Christ chooses us, and draws us to Himself, it is that He may sanctify us. Christ is often grieved away, by our desire to reserve one sin. Fourth, By an unholy house. “I brought Him into my mother’s house.” Remember to take Christ home with you, and let Him rule in your house. If you walk with Christ abroad, but never take Him home, you will soon part company for ever.

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The Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod [1833-1965]

In the preceding chapter we have seen the rise of Reformed Presbyterianism in Scotland in the seventeenth century together with its exportation to America in the eighteenth. By the first years of the nineteenth century the Reformed Presbyterian Church was firmly planted in American soil. The reconstitution of the Reformed Presbytery in 1798 under the leadership of James McKinney was followed by an outburst of optimistic energy in the Church. „Important additions were soon after made to the ministry, and the Church entered on a career of vigorous labour, crowned by a large measure of progress.‟1 As a result of this energy, the official judicial testimony of the American Reformed Presbyterian Church was published in 1807 under the title Reformation Principles Exhibited. Two years later—on May 24, 1809—„All the ministers of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, being convened, with ruling Elders delegated from different sessions, did unanimously agree to constitute a Synod.‟ The official name was to be the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church in America was well aware of her unique circumstances and opportunities. “God has, in his Providence, presented the human family in this country with a new experiment. The Church, unheeded by the civil powers, is suffered to rise or fall by her own exer- tions.‟4 So wrote Alexander McLeod in Reformation Princi- ples Exhibited. However, what would be the outcome of these unique circumstances? How would the Church respond to these unique opportunities? The Reformed Presbyterian Church looked upon the dawn of the nineteenth century with extreme optimism. In- deed, D. M. Carson entitles this chapter in the history of the Church “The New Optimism.‟5 This general attitude is well expressed in the words of James McKinney, uttered in 1797:

“The joint triumphs, of enlightened reason, and true religion, must soon become glorious.‟ Mankind would soon come to recognize the rights of God, and the millennium would be triumphantly ushered in. According to McLeod the Fall of the papal antichrist is fast approaching, and the time is near when the Lord will pour forth his Holy Spirit and the king- doms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15).7 This optimistic spirit was accompanied by the substantial growth of the Church. In 1798 there were two ministers, a few scattered congregations, and some 1000 communicant members. By 1832 there were 36 ministers, 60 organized congregations, and some 5,000 members. The sources of this growth were Covenant children, Reformed Presbyterians from Ireland and Scotland, and converts from other denomi- nations.8 These converts were looked upon as those who had become dissatisfied with the use of human compositions in singing God‟s praises, the relaxation of church discipline, the prevalence of Hopkinsian and other doctrinal errors, and „the carnal, worldly spirit of professors, in the churches which they left.‟9 At the time of the appearance of the second edition of Reformation Principles Exhibited in 1824, it could be exclaimed: „Congregations are springing up in the desert, and the wilderness is becoming a fruitful field.‟10 The organization of the Church kept pace with this growth. The number of presbyteries increased. A representa- tive General Synod, to meet every two years, was established in 1823; and by 1832 the General Synod had constituted the Eastern and Western Subordinate Synods for yearly meetings. The Church was zealous for the education of her minis- ters, and in 1807 drew up a constitution for a theological seminary. This constitution is interesting, not only because it reveals the Church‟s conception of the nature of the ministry and of theological education, but also because it reveals her conception of what constitutes proper qualifications for the ministry. These are in order of importance: first, piety or practical godliness; second, good sense or talents commensurate with the calling; and third, a good theological education. As fund raisers for the seminary put it: “The Millennium is not to be introduced by ignorant enthusiasm. There must be an able ministry.‟ The Church was also conscious of her responsibility in the areas of discipline, evangelism, and doctrine. The Rev. David Graham was deposed from the ministry and excommunicated from the Church for misconduct in 1812. In 1822 Covenanters in New York City founded the American Evangelical Tract Society to disseminate tracts in support of the principles of the Reformation. The ministers of the Synod were on the whole prolific authors. For a small number of men they produced a good deal of published material, much of which concerns doctrinal subjects. They were particularly concerned to defend traditional Calvinism against its modern substitutes. For instance, William Gibson wrote Calvinism vs. Hopkinsianism (1803), and Gilbert McMaster published a Defence of Some Fundamental Doctrines of Christianity (1815)—including the Trinity, the Person of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the Depravity of Man, and the limited extent of the Atonement. McMaster inquires: What then? Shall men, in things of religion, be in a state of per- petual hostility? Shall the empire of the Prince of Peace never be united? Must each contend for his dogma? The Church of God is indeed lamentably distracted, and in that distraction all parties have a guilty hand. But can the malady be cured by an unprincipled abandonment of fundamental doctrines, merely to obtain a momentary repose from the pains of contest? Such repose would be that of death, to the interests of vital godliness.

It was in this spirit that Alexander McLeod wrote The Life and Power of True Godliness (1816).16 The position of the ministers of the Church on the matter of political dissent did not preclude their speaking out on political and social issues. McLeod puts it tersely in the first of his series of sermons in defense of the American cause in the War of 1812: „Ministers have the right of discussing from the pulpit those political questions which affect Christian morals.‟ The Church took a particularly strong stand on the slavery question, expressed in McLeod‟s Negro Slavery Unjustifiable (1804); and as early as 1802 we read in the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery: „It was enacted that no slave- holder should be allowed the communion of the Church.‟

As might be expected, one of the chief topics for discussion was the matter of the application of Christian principles to existing governments. It was chiefly differences in this area that led to the lamentable Disruption of 1833.

Disruption and Recovery In 1833 the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America experienced a division which up to the present has been permanent. The majority adhering to the General Synod became known as the New Light General Synod, the minor- ity as simply the Old Light Synod. The Disruption of 1833 has its origins in the early years of the nineteenth century. To understand this momentous dispute in the Church it is necessary to mention some of the developments which led up to it.

Hutchinson, George P., The History Behind the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. pp. 65-70.

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A Land So Far Away?
Just suppose, dear reader, just suppose now, that in our blessed country one year, a  bill was approved by both Houses of Congress, sent to the White House in Washington, D.C., signed by the president and it became the law of the land.  Oh yes, an important ingredient of this bill was that it had the support of The Episcopal Church (TEC).  What was its gist, you ask?

The first  section of the bill decreed deposition of all spiritual leaders who denied the federal government’s authority in ecclesiastical matters.

The second section excommunicated any spiritual leader who dared to preach and proclaim that the worship part of the bill was contrary to Holy Scripture.

Next, that same penalty of deposition was promised upon any who preached that the liturgical part of the bill was unbiblical.

Fourth, any and all clergy and churches in the land had to adopt the this governmental  liturgy for their congregations upon pain of deposition if they failed to adopt it.

Fifth, all congregational meetings could only be called by governmental decree; further, no ecclesiastical business could be discussed without the approval of the government; in addition, no biblical meeting could be held independent of government authority, and last, no spiritual leader could engage in extemporary prayers.

And last, governmental regulations were handed on regarding the manner of worship, gowns worn by clergy members, fonts used for baptisms, ornaments in the church building, and the conducting of the Lord’s Supper.

This author is sure that all of our readers would quickly acknowledge if the churches of America were recipients of such a federal law as this, the visible biblical church as we know and love would all but disappear from the land, or be so thoroughly compromised that it would be not longer a church where Christ Jesus is the Head of the church.

How glad we are that this alleged supposition is only that.   However to Scottish Christians in the Church of Scotland on May 23, 1635, the above supposition was an awful reality.  It was sent down to that church by the king with the blessing of the Anglican church upon the Church of Scotland.

After a couple of years of delay, on July 23, 1637, an attempt was made to introduce it in the cathedral church at St. Giles, Edinburgh.  From among the common people there that day, a woman named Jenny Geddes picked up her stool and flung it at the dean who thought that he was going to introduce it in the worship service.  A regular riot broke out as other chairs began flying toward the podium.  The dean was forced to flee for his life.  This result brought the city of Edinburgh under an episcopal interdict, which suspended all public worship, even on the hallowed Sabbath, because this sanctioned liturgy has been neglected.  We have a post on the reaction on July 23, 1637.

The second response was the signed of the National Covenant on February 28, 1638.  This Day in Presbyterian History also covered this reaction on February 28, 1638.

Words to Live By: You may be thinking that the separation of church and state would preclude this from ever happening in America.  But with countless Reformed and Presbyterian leaders proclaiming that we now live in a post-Christian land, the time may be soon upon us where such liberties of worship and work may soon be past.  Our Lord’s definition of His people,  found in Matthew 5:23, must be re-discovered by the church in our land.  He said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by man.” Let us not be good-for-nothing Christians.

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A Better Possession, and A Lasting One

Barbara Cunningham had all of the characteristics of a powerful family by her ancestry. But of far more importance than these temporal goods was that her ancestors were all warm supporters of the Protestant Reformation of Scotland.

Continuing in that rich biblical tradition, Barbara Cunningham married William Muir of Caldwell in 1657, thus enabling her to be known as Lady Caldwell. Her husband, like her ancestors, was zealous in his adherence to Presbyterianism, and especially to those who had been ejected from their parishes in 1662. Even though it was considered traitorous to do so, he abstained from attending the churches where Anglican priests now were in charge. Cited to appear before the civil authorities to explain his absence, the date was delayed time and again. Of course, this was of the Lord. When Covenanters began to take up arms to defend their faith, William Muir raised a troop of fifty neighbors to ride to the area around Pentland Hills to help their cause. But a force of government troops cut off their approach with the result that the small band was scattered. Forced to hide himself and eventually flee, William Muir eventually made his way to Holland.

Soon the weight of the opposition fell upon his wife, Lady Caldwell, and her four children, three of them female. She lost all of her and their property which was given to the general who had fought the Covenanters at Pentland Hills. Lady Caldwell joined her husband in Holland with her family. While there, they were allowed to worship God along with all the other Scottish exiles. In a short while however, her husband died in the faith. Lady Caldwell returned to Scotland with her family, hoping that the length of time being absent would make a difference. But it did not. The property still was in control of the anti-Covenanter forces, even taking the new furniture which Lady Caldwell had bought to make a new home. She was still destitute in her beloved homeland.

There is a wonderful paragraph on page 4 of her story in the Ladies of the Covenant. It states that “she did not distrust in  adversity the God whom she had trusted and served in prosperity. Confiding in his promises, she believed that He would provide for her and hers; and possessing too much self-respect to be dependent for the means of subsistence on the bounty of others, she, with her virtuous children, set themselves diligently to the task of supporting themselves by the labor of their own hands.”

Suddenly, without formal charges or even a trial, she, along with her four children, were arrested. Supposedly, a neighbor had observed a non-conformist minister lead a worship service in her home. On the authority of the provost of Glasgow, Scotland, Lady Caldwell was sent on May 22, 1683, along with her twenty year old daughter, Jean, to prison, and not any prison, but the notorious Castle of Blackness.

The daughter began to suffer health problems due to this cruel punishment after six months, and was set free after an appeal in 1684.  Her mother would serve another two years and eight months. During this time, her second daughter Anne would died of Yellow fever. Finally, after this time, she was set free. After William and Mary came to the throne, all of her property and rights were restored to her.

Words to Live By: Like the early Jewish Christians as described in Hebrews 10:34b, Lady Caldwell “accepted joyfully the seizure of property, knowing that (they) had a better possession and a lasting one.” A question to ponder! Would we be like these first century Christians and like Lady Caldwell if such a calamity would happen to us, losing all of our possessions for the sake of the faith delivered unto the saints? It is happening now in our blessed land! Let our prayer be to the God of all grace to help us to see those things which are eternal, and accept joyfully the loss of those things which are temporal.

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